The Second Most Important Amenity in a Business Hotel

3631501874_9fea3048ea_zBeyond good Wi-Fi, preferably free, it’s all about a good cup of joe. Dare I say, nothing kicks off a day on the road more significantly than the ritual of sipping an excellent cup of coffee. The perfect roast. Well brewed. Prepared just the way you like it.

I pondered this last week as I sat in the lobby of the Hilton near San Francisco’s Union Square, eyeing the Starbucks that dominated one corner of the lobby. The Starbucks that opens at 6 a.m. every day–including Sunday! Hotels are getting smart. Whether by including a coffee retailer in the lobby or offering a complimentary coffee/tea service there, they are responding to the increasing number of guests who care enough about a good cuppa joe to wander downstairs in the early hours.

Sure, in-room coffee machines are fine. And many hotels have upgraded to Keurigs or Nespressos for a better experience in the room. But for those who love their lattes, the barista downstairs will do better.

My pet peeve is when a hotel does not offer an in-room coffee maker. Is it just my bad luck, or is this a minor trend these days? The first time I encountered a room without a coffee maker, I hunted for at least a half-hour, sure I’d missed it. It was positively unthinkable not to have a coffee pot. A travesty.

What does a good cup of coffee mean when you’re traveling for work? It means you can warm your hands around something fine, even as you struggle to regain your best self in a new day in a new place when you’re sleep deprived, laden with stress and somewhat disoriented. It means all is right with the world. Or it will be shortly, when the caffeine kicks in.

All this said, I am a tea drinker. I have it easy, with an endless supply of good-quality tea bags within reach in my carry-on and hot water an easy-to-acquire commodity. But my heart goes out to you coffee drinkers. I’m happy that hotels are beginning to understand that they must not come between you and your coffee, if they’d like you to come back.

Is hotel coffee important to you when you travel? (And maybe I shouldn’t get you started, but what’s the best/worst airline coffee?)

Photo: Flickr/Lara604

10 Hotel Room Fails

15029850140_66eac6f649_zA hotel is a business traveler’s home, a refuge from a stressful day. So when there’s something annoying about this haven, it can be really annoying. Many brands and properties have fixed the two classic biz traveler pet peeves: inaccessible outlets and expensive, slow Wi-Fi. But there are still plenty of things I find in hotel rooms that make me crazy. Here are my top 10 hotel room annoyances:

Alarms that go off in the middle of the night. Neutralizing the alarm clock should be standard procedure in making up a room for a new guest.

Placement of the phone on one side of a king-size bed and the clock on the other. Occasionally, I order a wake-up call. If I sleep where I can see the clock in the middle of the night, I can’t get to the phone without a big scramble.

Glass-topped desks. These make a mouse crazy—the one you’re using to try and pound out that last-minute report or email. Grrrr. (Or whatever an annoyed mouse might utter.)

Too many or too-complicated light switches. I once had to call engineering to help me turn off a bank of lights before sleeping. It shouldn’t be rocket science. Master switches are awesome, especially to use as you exit, but please make them simple to understand.

Needing to check in daily when Wi-Fi is free. My patience is frayed when my perk slows me down by asking me to type in my last name and room number each day. Can’t it be smarter than this?

Amenity bottle labels that are impossible to read in the shower. I get mad when I wash my hair with the conditioner. (A corollary: I also get mad when I can’t tear open the wrapping on the soap with wet hands.)

Bathrooms incorporated into the room with glass walls. Please don’t assume I’m here by myself. I need some modicum of privacy. And don’t make me have to worry about keeping all the water in the shower.

Tiny vanities with limited counter space. I shouldn’t have to fear my things will fall into the toilet.

Hot beverage setups without tea or with herbal only. Sometimes we tea drinkers feel like second-class citizens.

The TV tuned to the hotel channel during turndown. I make an effort to conserve energy, so it bothers me to enter the room and have the TV on. And I have no interest in learning more about the hotel brand while I’m in the room. I wonder how many times ever in the history of humanity a hotel guest has made a buying decision based on the hotel channel or the beautiful, expensively produced book on the desk.

Which hotel room situations make you crazy?

Photo: Flickr/wackystuff

How – and Why – to Add a Ritual to Your Travel

15546530359_4f0d1da9f4_zHabits and rituals are trending. Or so it seems. There’s a whole body of literature on the subject now, and it’s a market that does not yet seem saturated. (A book I’ve particularly enjoyed on the subject is Daily Rituals, How Artists Work.) The theory is that habits, particularly morning habits, reduce cognitive load, preserving our limited decision-making capacity for later in the day when it’s really needed.

I have a morning ritual. I awake before the rest of the household, check email, do 10 minutes of spiritual reading, then head outside to exercise (usually a run). After breakfast and getting the kids off to school, I meditate and then write a little strictly for fun. Then I buckle down to work. I’ve been doing this, in the same order, for a few years.

After a while, I noticed I threw these habits out the window when I traveled. Maybe I figured the ritual would be disrupted because my travel days were disruptive. Or maybe I thought I needed a break, because travel is harsh. Or maybe I was just being lazy. Who knows. But one day, it occurred to me that I really had no excuse.

There was no reason NOT to do this when traveling. Especially without the “getting the kids off to school” part, I could pretty easily get up at the same time as at home, do it all and be ready for a breakfast meeting at 7:30. By now, I’m pretty devoted to my routine even when I travel, because I’ve felt the payoff. The ritual anchors my day.

By no means am I perfect. Sometimes if I’m out very late at a dinner the night before (which never happens at home), I’ll skip. Or if I’m getting sick, I’ll sometimes take the extra sleep. But I’ve found that a ritual makes my whole trip go better.

Travel rituals don’t have to be grand mirrors of your at-home rituals either. Even small gestures, done routinely, can bring on a sense of stability and home when you travel. (I used to buy a bag of M&Ms at the airport before every trip, and there was something satisfying about the tradition of this treat. Then I discovered the “240 Calories” in big type on the front of the package forgot to mention that’s per serving, with two servings per bag. My new snack ritual is a Kind bar.) Some people tap the plane’s fuselage as they step into the aircraft. One of my friends puts a framed photo of her family beside her hotel room bed. These little things can really ground you, even on a trip.

Whether it’s big or small, think about adding a ritual to your travel life. I guarantee you’ll be more at home, wherever you are in the world.

Photo: Flickr/Diana Nguyen

What Does Your Hotel Say About You?

Where are you staying? It’s a question that comes up in conversation during almost every trip, often posed by a client or colleague. Your answer conveys something about you, your work and your business.

Imagine one of those Facebook quizzes that promises to analyze you: What hotel are you? Maybe those quiz results would say, You’re a Four Seasons. Or, You’re a W.

This got me thinking about some hotels I’ve adored and why they appealed to me. A few favorites come to mind.

Killer view from a room’s transformed balcony at the Andaz West Hollywood (Courtesy of Hyatt)

Andaz West Hollywood – I love the Andaz brand: cool enough to be interesting but not so over-the-top hip that I feel ancient. This hotel has such a colorful rock-and-roll history that they successfully play up, but I particularly appreciated the clever way the rooms have been updated, with former balconies transformed into incredible sitting areas that look out on the bright lights of the city. I dug it!

Mira Moon's Secret Garden bar offers a respite from Hong Kong's frenetic energy (Courtesy of Mira Moon)

Mira Moon’s Secret Garden bar is an oasis from Hong Kong’s frenetic energy. (Courtesy of Mira Moon)

Mira Moon, Hong Kong – I fell head-over-heels in love with the design of this hotel and wished I could take it home with me to transform my house with its aesthetic: brightly colored, bold, playful, and clean. Bonus points, especially for a writer: There’s a storyline, a folktale that involves a rabbit and the moon, that ties the decor together thematically. More bonus points: The Secret Garden bar is one of the loveliest and most surprising alcoves I’ve ever seen, tucked away on the third floor.

Stunning sculpture, Rising by Zang Huan, welcomes guests to the Shangri-La Toronto (Photo: Flickr/Joseph Morris)

A stunning sculpture, Rising by Zhang Huan, welcomes guests to the Shangri-La Toronto. (Photo: Flickr/Joseph Morris)

Shangri-La, Toronto – Something about this hotel really made clear to me the subtleties of the highest levels of service. Every single human interaction I had was sublime, whether it was with the engineer who fixed the Nespresso machine or the concierge who summoned a black car–conversations that were friendly but sophisticated, caring but professional. The hotel is also filled with incredible art, something I care about and that usually signals that fifth star. The hotel is oddly placed, but once you’re ensconced, it doesn’t seem to matter because within the Shangri-La’s confines, life is happy.

The airport/harbor location is what sets the Hyatt Boston Harbor apart. (Courtesy of Hyatt)

The airport/harbor location is what sets the Hyatt Boston Harbor apart. (Courtesy of Hyatt)

Hyatt Boston Harbor – Now, in great contrast to the Shangri-La, this hotel is quite basic and just what you’d expect from Hyatt. Which is fine. Service is friendly but inattentive. As I said, fine. But it makes my list because I was totally tickled by the hotel’s location. If your room is on one side of the hall, you have a straight-on airport view, right down a runway at Logan, with no sense of being close to the city center. If your room is on the other side of the hallway, you have a magnificent view of Boston Harbor and the city skyline, with no sense of being near the airport. And how cool is it to take a 10-minute water taxi ride to your meeting–from an airport hotel?

Who knows what these hotels say about me, except that I’m all over the place and every trip is different. But this I do know: When a hotel surprises and delights (because that’s a relatively rare experience), it’s something to celebrate.

What is your very favorite hotel?

Private Space: Travel’s New Guilty Pleasure?

The "coffin" seat on a Cathay Pacific 747

The “coffin” seat on a Cathay Pacific 747

I slept with a man who wasn’t my husband. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, I’ll add that it was on an international flight and we never touched.

Am I the only one who feels a little exposed when I’ve had a lovely, prolonged chat with my seatmate for the first couple of hours on a flight in business class, then stretch out to sleep a few inches from him? While I do enjoy the opportunity for conversation, I much prefer what my friend calls the coffin, a walled seat in a herringbone configuration, where I cannot view more than a fellow passenger’s feet.

It’s said that time is the new luxury (a thought I agree with). But now, move over time, you have company: Private space is a luxury, too. This is according to Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board, Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, who said during his CES keynote last week: “Quality time and private space will be the true luxury items of the future.” These two commodities wouldn’t be considered luxuries unless they were in short supply.

Nowhere is private space more rare–and coveted–than in air travel. Certainly, economy passengers have no refuge from the masses (except perhaps a moment in the lav). And while the landscape is better for premium passengers, finding pockets of privacy for these travelers can take some effort, too. And often, some funds.

For me, one of the most important aspects of private space is the option for quiet–of not hearing someone else and of not being being heard. I don’t care to listen to others’ cell phone conversations, nor do I wish others to eavesdrop on mine. Uninvited phone conversations floating through the air are like pollution, and airport gates are heavily polluted.

Lounges, while offering the promise of private space, are often crowded and don’t live up to that promise.  A friend of mine once discussed her new job on a cell phone in an airport lounge. When she hung up, a gentleman several chairs away introduced himself and said he was the one she had replaced. Ouch.

Gradually, privacy has been taken away from us, a reality as uncomfortable as sleep deprivation. And when we travel, we experience both!

You’re the only one who knows when and for how long you need private space. But it’s nice to have the option, and the more private space options that can be built into travel, the better.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to be an extrovert and never care about this. But I do. Nothing against you, fellow passenger, but sometimes I just need a little time to myself.